3D printed exploratory spiders

Fraunhofer's 3D printed exploration spiders are intended for use "as an exploratory tool in environments that are too hazardous for humans, or too difficult to get to." They use hydraulic bellows to execute advanced maneuvers, including jumping:

With its long extremities, the spider has a range of ways to get around. Some models can even jump. This is possible using hydraulically operated bellows drives that serve as joints and keep limbs mobile. With no muscles to stretch their legs, these creatures build up high levels of body pressure that they then use to pump fluid into their limbs. Shooting fluid into the legs extends them. “We took this mobility principle and applied it to our bionic, computer-controlled lightweight robot. Its eight legs and body are also fitted with elastic drive bellows that operate pneumatically to bend and extend its artificial limbs,“ explains Dipl.-Ing. Ralf Becker, a scientist at IPA. The components required for locomotion, such as the control unit, valves and compressor pump, are located in the robot‘s body; the body can also carry various measuring devices and sensors, depending on the application at hand. Hinges interoperate with the bellows drives so that the legs can move forward and turn as needed. Diagonally opposed members move simultaneously, too. Bending the front pairs of legs pulls the robotic spider‘s body along, while stretching the rear extremities pushes it.

High-tech spider for hazardous missions (via JWZ)


  1. I see they’re hoping to use these as emergency responders.  If one of those ever comes to rescue me, it’ll find me very freshly dead of a heart attack.

      1. I recommend getting a taste for both. Apparently scorpians taste similar to crab and lobster. Nothing gets rid of fear like hunger. Also it will change the whole hunter/prey mentality.  Check out http://girlmeetsbug.com/ for recipes.

  2. Are you kidding me? Headcrabs! That’s what those are. How quaint to call them “exploration spiders” as if they won’t be designed to jump onto people’s heads and take control of their bodies.

    Nope. Don’t like. 

  3. And they just HAD to top it off with the little multi-eyeball nubbins! I guess it’s better than a prosthetic Ann Coulter face, though. …Barely.

  4. Does it make some sort of horrid hiss/screech noise when it jumps? If not, the deficiency must be rectified immediately!

  5. Is there any video of it moving around? A cheaply built compact and agile robot seems too good to be true . I would love it if it actually worked, but the description makes it sound so much more advanced than other existing robots that I’ll need more than a single photograph of what could be a sculpture to be convinced.

    1. I agree: Video Please. That description sounds more aspirational to me than demonstrated fact.

  6. I seriously want to see one of these moving. It sounds like the only downside is it can’t actually climb walls, but bonus points for jumping! Needs a paint job too, though I wouldn’t recommend black with a red hourglass.

    It would be awesome if someday robot spiders coming to rescue people became such an acceptable thing that we lost our innate fear of real spiders.

  7. Yes, spiders are very well engineered: they have to be to get the jump on their insect prey.  They have a simple bellows lung that allows more energy transfer than the insect scheme of sucking the oxygen directly in through spiracles in the integument.  They have a higher percentage of  “brain” matter even though there’s no more room in their heads than in the insects.  They manage this by moving the CPU power out of the head and into a circular ring of ganglia in the body. They have real eyes, at least four of them plus four more light sensors used for emergency proximity detection, as opposed to the bug’s compound blob of  light sensors.

    But it’s the hydraulic system that’s really neat.  There’s little muscle in the legs: they’re essentially a series of tubes with valves at the joints.  Spidey calculates the necessary valve settings to accomplish the desired jump or other combat manoeuvre using his circular neural net and the parallax from all of the eyes, sets the valves, and then squeezes in on the central fluid bulb in his tummy to accomplish the action at the speed of the resulting hydraulic shockwave. Jumping Spiders are so fast that they move between the firings of your optical neurones and just seem to teleport to their new locations.  Several web based spiders can even pull The Flash trick of vibrating into invisibility.  They do this to evade birds and bug-squishing little kids but an arms race with the hunter wasps has somewhat negated this cloaking device through staggered firings of the neural net in their big, thousand element compound “eyes” (which have more mass than their brains do!).  You can’t fool all of the eyes all of the time!

    So here’s to the spider: through superior engineering he (along with the dragonfly) keeps a lid on the insect population which would otherwise leave us knee-high in creepy crawlies.

  8. The last line in the article….
    A prototype of the robot can be seen at the EuroMold 2011 trade fair in Frankfurt, at the joint stand of the Fraunhofer-Gemeinschaft (Hall 11, Stand C66), from November 29 through December 2.

  9. Doesn’t seem entirely practical.  I would have to see it in action.  The arachnid advantage lies in the fine hooks that allow it to climb verticalities.  A spider form that does not have this advantage would seem to be worse than useless at first thought.

  10. The wall climbing thing could be achieved with gecko tape that someone was developing a while back. Web spinning, though; that would be the kicker. Just imagine, walking through a deserted building, when you get that wierd feeling something’s behind you. You turn round, and dangling from the ceiling, right at eye level…

    1. I would “like” your post, but “like” is pretty much the exact opposite of the feeling I get with the dangly thing.  It’s bedtime but now I don’t expect actual “sleep”.

  11. Why not make them look a bit more… friendly? I mean, just cause you’re inspired by spiders doesn’t mean you have to go for the whole creepy arachnid thing. At least… I dunno… give them some blinky lights and a friendly voice, give them a little happy dance or something.

    1. They should definitely have the face of an infant to make them more approachable.  Maybe they could also repeat “Do not fear, friend” in a child’s voice as well.

  12. Does anyone else think of the (surprisingly good) Science Fiction movie from the mid-80s with Tom Selleck in it, where he is tracking down a robot maker who has a bunch of robot attack spiders?

    That’s right, Tom Selleck.

    These might be useful for mine removal – a non-human way to search for mines in an area. 

  13. Runaway! I remember that movie… my friends and I watched it on a portable TV while one of us camped out in front of Best Buy when the Wii came out. I remember the end being really similar to Darkman, to the point where I got them confused later.

    As for mines, it seems like something more durable might be better… something that doesn’t need to be replaced every time it sets off a mine. Or, if it’s just disarming and removing mines rather than setting them off, something with hands.

  14. I’m beginning to wonder if  Cory owns stock in Makerbot judging by the frequency of his posts concerning 3-D printed items.

    1. You know that he wrote a novel in which 3d printers figured prominently?  Isn’t it possible that he just has an interest in the topic?  I know I do.

  15. Patrick Farley http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Farley was there first with his story “The Spiders” but when I went to look it up it up I found that the original and brilliant comic has been kind of disappeared off the internet.

    In its place I found a 3d illustrated “prologue” that is a loose lifeless mockery of the original comic. The prologue is awful and is totally missing the casual satire, futurism, post-modernism, humanism and rough and ready art that made the original “The Spiders” so brilliant. 

    Luckily the Wayback machine has a copy and you need to see it. It has remote drones, entheogenic warfare, social software mediated warfare and an assassin in a hijab. Again I just don’t get that this comic could be forgotten. Chapter 3.5 looks pretty beatup due to its html layout tricks and is such a teaser for where this was going. 

    Consider that Patrick started this comic in late 2001 and consider this an alt reality that could still come to pass. If you enjoy this it may be advisable to make a backup of your own just in case it violates someones patent or copyright or idea of what art should say sometime in the future. It is only a matter of time before SOPA starts wiping sites from Wayback and internet archives. Sad but true.View it here while you can -> http://web.archive.org/web/20070821144640/http://www.e-sheep.com/spiders/

  16. I was never afraid of spiders until I found one the size of my fist next to my hotel bed in Peten 12 years go.

  17. 20 years from now, I’ll be shooting those things with a scavenged automatic rifle from the crumbled remains of an overpass, watching my brothers in the resistance fall like dominoes from the barrage of thermal guided lasernators.  But for now, that’s pretty cool.

  18. Wasn’t there some robot technology that could get energy from decay of organic matter (such as dead animals etc.)? I think matching this spider with that tech would be perfect :)

  19. The first thing I thought when I saw that was
    “OMG! the potential for practical special effects for sf / horror movies.”
    Imagine actors contending with real monster creepy crawlies!!
    But also 3D printing for props. This could be great, the price is still probably a little high at the moment for most but… sooon!

Comments are closed.